To the Outback & Beyond… Inferno Part 2

The son of Scott Summers/Cyclops, Nathan Christopher, is finally in the hands of his demonically twisted mother Madelyne Pryor aka The Goblin Queen.  Her promises to turn the world to ashes seem very probable given that she went toe-to-toe with Mr. Sinister to close the last chapter and won out.  The mutants with whom Maddie had spent the last months alongside in Australia, our Uncanny X-Men, have been battling it out with Sinister’s Marauders in the streets of a New York City that, just like the Goblin Queen and the X-Men, have been demonically transformed.  We were left with Wolverine telling Havok that they had trouble but the mystery of the source was left dangling as fans were told to check out X-Factor #37 before the next UXM issue.

What role do the original five X-Men have to play in this drama?

Writers: Chris Claremont (X-Men), Louise Simonson (X-Factor)

Pencilers: Marc Silvestri (X-Men), Walter Simonson (X-Factor)

Inkers: Dan Green/Hilary Barta (X-Men), Bob Wiacek/Al Milgrom (X-Factor)

Colorists: Glynis Oliver (X-Men), Petra Scotese/Tom Vincent (X-Factor)

Letters: Tom Orzechowski (X-Men), Joe Rosen (X-Factor)

Editor: Bob Harras

X-Factor #37

Even if you are reading this comic for the very first time, from the get-go it is evident that the X-Factor team is embroiled in the same demonic melee that we witnessed in UXM # 241 and the dialogue (as well as the cover) tells us right off that the team is in search of Cyclops’ son.  A few things of note that immediately stand out just from the first page are that Cyclops and Marvel Girl refer to each other by their first names whereas Iceman uses Scott’s codename when addressing him.  It’s minor but it does inform a newer reader of the familiarity between those two characters without having to scream it. Also, in looking back at the UXM issues I’ve covered that preceded this story, I did not find a point at which Madelyne Pryor actually refers to her son by name, typically just “my son” as if he’s merely property, whereas Jean Grey immediately name-checks him as Christopher.  Again, something small, but intriguing given the revelations of UXM #241 as it pertains to Maddie’s origins as a clone of Jean Grey.  The birth mother/clone gives the baby no name and treats him like property while the original template seems to take to him as her own child, giving him an identity all his own.

For this book, as opposed to the UXM chapters that preceded it, family seems to be a primary theme.  These are the five original X-Men, still bonded together despite the changes in their lives, and all fighting towards the goal of finding/saving the son of one of their own.  This is contrary to the motivations of the X-Men that led them to Manhattan for this story; in their case it was plain and simple revenge on the Marauders for the Mutant Massacre in the Morlock Tunnels.

So when N’astirh (the red version, thus this book also reflecting the events of New Mutants & X-Terminators) appears with the baby he refers to as Nathan Christopher Charles in tow and introduces the transformed Madelyne to her husband’s team, the family dynamic gets even more complex.  Cyclops’ refusal to see his wife as more than a victim of the demons gives the reader with the depth of his denial and her insistence on referring to the baby as Nathan (the name of the bully at Scott’s childhood orphanage) demonstrates the depth of hate Maddie has for the husband who abandoned her.  Family is also touched upon in the form of Jean being assaulted by her parents, now in a demon form, courtesy of Maddie back in UXM #240.

Now right alongside the concept of family, the themes of betrayal and identity also compromise this issue.  It’s not just Cyclops’ betrayal of his wife when he left her to seek out Jean Grey upon her resurrection but it’s also the betrayal of a mother to her child as the Goblin Queen treats Nathan so carelessly and promises to sacrifice her own son to the achieve N’astirh’s goals.  It’s also a betrayal of Cyclops own sense of identity and everything he ever thought he believed in as he is now confronted with the “resurrection” of a wife he thought dead and, as a result, must face the consequences of his own actions.  Yes Madelyne has been somewhat manipulated into this role as the Goblin Queen but it was the actions of her husband that played a large part in opening her up to this path.  He must face the part of himself that took to Maddie because of her resemblance to Jean Grey.  As Maddie says, “It wasn’t me you wanted. It was never me” and that fact, along with the machinations of Sinister/N’astirh/S’ym, is something that has helped to tear the woman apart. Her identity has been shattered and the final straw comes in the form of what Madelyne sees as a betrayal when Nathan subconsciously reaches out to Jean for salvation from his own mother.

So in the closing pages the family rears its head once more as Maddie references how she once tore Scott from his X-Family (UXM #201 presumably) and now promises to do so once again as we get this:

Uncanny X-Men #242

It’s been years in the making.  Since the day the X-Factor comic debuted with the team in their original disguise as mutant hunters, since the moments where Wolverine caught Jean’s scent, you could even say since the release of Classic X-Men #1 fleshed out the first meeting between the Original X-Men and the “All-New, All-Different” team; this moment has been building for an eternity:

Unfortunately it’s a moment that has only come about due to the manipulations of Madelyne Pryor.  Not only did she drop the Goblin Queen guise as soon as her corner of the X-Family made their arrival but she also continues to play the two teams off each other in her selling of X-Factor’s intentions.  Maddie plays the innocent under assault by her husband and his team, manipulating her brother-in-law Havok’s feelings for her to bring him to her rescue, puts Cyclops in a no-win situation where he must choose to save either Jean or Maddie, and it is the existing tensions between the two units that accomplish the rest.

An interesting observation is that despite the fact both teams have been exposed to Inferno, it is only the X-Men unit that displays the effects of that exposure.  The X-Men, save Colossus, have all been changed physically while the worst aspects of their personalities are at the forefront.  For all those changed, it was only Longshot who did not transform on his own.  He required a little “help” from N’astirh to become this lesser version of himself.  Meanwhile the members of X-Factor, even the former Angel who had been named the Horseman Death by Apocalypse, show no ills effects of their time spent in this Hell on Earth.  Although specifically not addressed in this issue, perhaps it is the X-Men’s relationship with Madelyne that made their transformations possible or perhaps it is a darkness inherent in the souls of those mutants that made it so easy.  Either way, the X-Men’s fall into darkness combined with their apparent belief that X-Factor was in fact a mutant hunting team, make this battle between the Children of Xavier come far too easy.

It’s a family feud that actually allows Claremont to explore the relationships between the members of the teams with how they pair off for battle.  The Wolverine/Angel rivalry has existed since the early days of the team (check out the vignette from Classic X-Men #1) and played a part in Angel leaving the X-Men permanently.  They are both men with unrequited love for Jean Grey and until now it was always Wolverine who had the physical advantage but Angel’s transformation into Death has evened that playing field.

It is only natural that the manipulated Havok nearly comes to blows with his brother Cyclops over Madelyne just as it is natural the older/younger brother dynamic feeds into their rivalry. Havok’s disappointment with his brother’s actions, combined with Maddie’s manipulations, have put Alex into a rage directed towards Cyclops while Cyke actually has the gall to say “Stay out of this little brother…”.  Interestingly enough though, after Cyclops chooses to save Jean in that no-win scenario Maddie set-up between the two women, Scott puts the blame for not being able to save them both on Alex rather than taking responsibility for once again choosing Jean.  Between the X-Factor issue and this story, it is evident Cyclops’s running theme is accepting responsibility and facing the consequences of his choices.

Around the teams, the transformations continue as Havok’s choice (if it really was his choice is up for debate) to side with Madelyne has turned him into her Goblin Prince while Longshot & Dazzler are acting like schoolyard bullies while their teammates are at war.  Everything has been turned on its head except Colossus who, fresh from walking out of UXM #241 and into the pages of New Mutants, makes his return to the fold and begins to climb the monstrously changed Empire State Building.

Still, there are some bonds that all these changes cannot render asunder and apparently, at some base level, family is one of them.  The odd connection between Nathan Christopher and Jean Grey’s parents’ works its way through their demonic transformations, the bond between Nathan & Jean is what proves to be both his salvation and his undoing, and the sisterhood between Storm & Jean is what ultimately brings the two teams together to stop the Goblin Queen from sacrificing her own child.

The bonds of family even override common sense as, despite the evidence to the contrary, both teams refuse to accept Madelyne’s culpability in the Inferno and believe N’astirh the primary reason for this nightmare.  It is only their bond as the Children of the Atom and their shared experiences that, despite the manipulations and transformations, allow the mutants to bring an end to N’astirh in explosive fashion.

It is his death that also puts a spotlight on a key issue in the existence of both teams: why?  Why does each team exist? The X-Men, as we have seen over the course of the issues since their “death”, have become a bit bloodthirsty and far more violent; judge, jury, and executioner as Cyclops calls Storm.  The intent was to be more aggressive in taking care of threats but, regardless of the Inferno effects, have they crossed the line and betrayed Xavier’s dream?  That is the statement Cyke makes just as Storm questions if he believes X-Factor to be the exemplar of the dream.  It’s a debate that has merit both in-story and in a meta-context even to this day as the number of X-Team books on the market continues to increase.  What purpose do they each hold? Do they have their own identity?

For this story, it is an argument left for another day as to the shock of all the Inferno-induced transformations to both Manhattan and the X-Men are not ended by N’astirh’s death.  Instead we see that the willing, hopeful ignorance of both teams that Madelyne was merely the pawn proves false…

Next: The Giant-Sized Conclusion…

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Christopher Maurer is a graduate of Michigan State University w/ a BA in English who then proceeded to get wrapped up in the world of videography for local news & sports, including the 2003 March Madness tournament, before migrating to Philadelphia in late-2003 where he then jumped into the crazy-ridiculous world of professional wrestling under the moniker Shane Hagadorn. It is a world in which he, his wife, and cats have since resided for the last 10 years. Chris, an avid fan of comics for 25 years & counting, has been writing his own personal blog since late-2010 at 20 Plus Years of 32 Pages and recently had his first published work in the September 2013 issue of Philly Beer Scene Magazine. His loves include Batman, mutants, Grant Morrison, craft beer, and not taking it all too seriously...

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